Becoming an education changemaker

Comment by Simon Freeman, managing director of education at IRIS Software Group

Three academic years on and the need for buckling down and getting through ‘unprecedented times’ seems to be over for teachers, students and parents alike. However, as the end of summer term approaches and school leaders start to plan for September, the question naturally arises as to how to make the most of the last few years’ learnings.

Undoubtedly, the power of connected data has come to the fore. The ability to access a single source of truth about every student, form group, year group and department from anywhere, at any time, has been a gamechanger for many senior leadership teams (SLT). Yet, the majority of schools are still moving slowly when it comes to upgrading legacy systems. In today’s digital-first, real-time world, school leaders must digitise fully to future-proof their schools.

It’s time to harness the power of real-time data across schools to become an education changemaker this new academic year.

Tech stacks at the bottom of the class

With multiple sites spread out geographically and ever-changing numbers of staff and students, systems and processes that can cope with the size and scale of the modern independent school are a necessity. Yet existing tech stacks are underperforming. Inefficient, manual and time-consuming, the time it takes to export and process critical data from different sites acts as a major blocker to overall school improvement.

SLTs are often required to manually centralise data to create meaningful insights on financials and academic results, taking critical time away from what matters most – improving the life chances of students. In fact, research has revealed that nearly half (44%) of teachers and school leaders didn’t have apps to capture work and assessments last academic year. Further, that only just over a third (39%) had the ability to enable parents to view student data.

Exacerbating this problem, existing disparate desktop-based systems don’t integrate – forcing SLTs to input the same data into multiple different places over and over again. Not only does this increase the chance of human error, it also means the data – and any insight that can be gained from it – is outdated. So, it’s virtually impossible for SLTs to assess the impact of changes such as new attendance policies or rewards and sanctions.

Turning grades around with real-time insights

Schools need to get smarter about technology. Contrary to popular belief, moving to cloud-native, real-time systems does not require a wholesale overhaul of existing technology systems. It can be done iteratively and in such a way where a bridge is built from existing desktop applications to the cloud – removing the need to re-enter countless pieces of data from across the school.

With a real-time, cloud-based platform, SLTs will be able to paint a holistic picture of the school. Not only will this enable delivery of better and more organised teaching to students – regardless of where they are based – it will also unlock the potential to make better informed decisions when it comes to individual students or the school’s performance as a whole.

Real-time insight can… provide the information needed to improve existing processes and ways of working

Real-time insight can also bring to the fore inefficiencies across specific sites, and crucially, provide the information needed to improve existing processes and ways of working. It can also promote conversations across the SLT and broader staff that enable schools to move away from simply organising data to using it to inform important decisions. Ultimately enabling SLTs to be more productive and engage in meaningful, impactful work.

As we move closer to the start of a new academic year, real-time data will arm schools with the insight needed to make the best-informed decisions. The ability to create more accessible and intuitive reporting, presenting and representing centralised data in near real-time, will enable them to track trends over time to reveal the real story behind the numbers. Only through harnessing the power of connected data can educators become true changemakers.

Simon Freeman is managing director of education at IRIS Software Group

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